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The birth of a Torah
Robert Jordan, Tri-Valley Herald, Pleasanton, Calif.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Feb. 22--PLEASANTON -- Penmanship has been called a lost art, but for the Jewish community in the Tri-Valley it has been of the utmost focus.

The Chabad of the Tri-Valley has commissioned the creation of its own community Torah. It is the first Torah ever commissioned by a Tri-Valley congregation, said Rabbi Raleigh Resnick of Chabad.

The Torah is the holiest document of the Jewish faith, and its creation is a long arduous task done by a scribe who trains for years -- not only to perf the Hebrew penmanship but to learn the thousands of laws associated with the process. If any of the 304,805 letters, symbols or ornamentations are off, the Torah is considered unfit for use.

A well-trained scribe, who has to say each word aloud before writing it, can finish a Torah in about 265 days of seven to eight hours of penning per day, Resnick said.

It is done on parchment paper -- cowhide sewn together with the same animal's hair. A quill, handmade by the scribe, is used by the scribe to write the document that contains the five books of Moses, which are the first five books of the Christian Bible.

"Think about it, this is something that hasn't changed for 3,300 years," said the rabbi. "(Torah) is as relevant today as it was then."

On Sunday, the Chabad began the process with a public celebration at the Pleasanton Hilton, flying in a scribe from Colorado to fill in and trace the first three paragraphs of the Torah, which was

started by another scribe the Chabad commissioned in Israel a few months back.

The section will be flown back to Israel, nearly completed by the same scribe in Israel who started it, and then returned to the Tri-Valley for completion of the final page some time in late August, just before the Jewish new year.

"This is something that will outlive me, my daughter and most of us," said Judie Lawrence, a member of the Chabad and one of the key figures behind getting the Torah commissioned. "It is something that will be here forever and that future generations will be a part of and learn from."

Lawrence, her husband, David Lawrence, and daughter, Brittany, are among several members of the Tri-Valley community who have donated to have a portion of the Torah endowed in their name or a family member's name.

Rabbi Moshe Liberow was the scribe flown in from Colorado to help start the process. Liberow, 36, has been well versed in the Torah since childhood, but didn't get serious about penning it until 15 years ago.

Since that point, he has spent the past nine to 10 years getting certified through a series of rigorous tests and has since commissioned and restored Torahs nationwide.

Also, Liberow stays up to date and refines his knowledge on all the laws associated with Judaism and has also become a checker, someone who verifies that Torahs are free of errors.

"Learning letters is one thing, but checking is a whole different ballgame," said Liberow by phone before Sunday's event. "For a scribe you have to have a good hand. A checker, you have to have a good eye."

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